Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category
I’ve been keeping a chart for a few years now, just noting down when I went to sporting events.
Here you go, waste a few seconds of your day looking at this rubbish, why don’t you?
2015, so far:
When I moved to Mexico City, I picked a team. There are three football teams in the city: Club América, Pumas, and Cruz Azul, all of whom play in the top division, the Liga MX. I looked at a map. Even though I’d seen América and Pumas play at their stadiums (Estadio Azteca and Estadio Olímpico, respectively) when I visited on holiday in 2008, I plumped for Cruz Azul, who were the closest team to where I was living at the time (and has been at all subsequent apartments). Pretty much everyone I know supports América or Pumas, but, that was fine. I liked the idea of supporting my most local team. It would also be disingenuous to pretend that I didn’t enjoy the idea of supporting the smallest team in the city, too. The fact that nobody I know supports Cruz Azul, though, made me a lot less inclined to go to the stadium. Until 2014. My girlfriend and I were looking for an apartment, and eventually found one just a block away from Estadio Azul, Cruz Azul’s stadium. My girlfriend is a Pumas fan. This new apartment was way better for my footballing interests than hers.
We are coming to the end of the regular season in Mexico. Well, it’s more complicated than that. I’ll explain. The 2014-15 season, as with previous seasons since the mid-nineties, is split in two. Before Christmas, there’s the Torneo apertura (opening tournament). This consists of each team playing every other team once, at home or away. After New Year, there’s the Torneo clausura (closing tournament). Same format here, just with teams playing the corresponding home or away fixture. After each of these tournaments, there’s a liguilla (little league). The liguilla is an eight team playoff. Essentially, quarter finals onwards. It’s a rubbish, overly complicated format for a season intended to make things more interesting. For me, Mr Logical Brain, it diminishes the achievement of being a champion if you can finish 8th over half a season, win a few playoff games and be the kings.
Anyway, last Saturday was the last home game for Cruz Azul in the Torneo apertura. After three seasons of not bothering to go to games, living around the corner has changed things drastically. Including cup games, I went to nine of eleven Cruz Azul home games. (I missed one when I was in Belize, and I missed one earlier in the season when I had food poisoning and really could not be too far from my own bathroom.) It’s been fun going to games. And it’s been fun to just go and buy a ticket from the stadium ticket office on the day of the game. Really, it’s the first time that I’ve regularly gone to see “my” football team since Lincoln City’s 1987-88 season.
It’s a relatively small stadium. 35,000 capacity, compared to Estadio Azteca (105,000) and Estadio Olímpico (69,000). Estadio Azul is interesting. Maybe not as pretty as Olímpico, or as impressive as Azteca, but I like that the pitch is below ground level. When you enter the stadium, you are at the front of top level of seating. From a living point of view, it means that the view from my window isn’t blocked by a big stadium, as Estadio Azul is about the same height as my third floor (fourth floor in American English) apartment.
It’s pretty cheap, too. Ignoring the cheapest section behind the goal where the hardcore fans go, you can get a ticket for 65 pesos (£3.02, €3.84, US$4.79). Unless–unless–it’s a local derby against América or Pumas. Then, the club puts the prices up. Well, that happens in England too, some games are more attractive, thus more expensive, than others. Here, though, with the Ticketmaster fee, that 65 peso ticket jumps to 423 pesos. About 650% of the normal price. Last Saturday was a local derby. Cruz Azul v. Pumas. What should be a game where the stadium is rammed full is a game where the stadium is half empty because of the price hike. It was a game with implications, too. The winner would more or less*eliminate any chance of the other team progressing to the liguilla.
I like being at Estadio Azul. I like that on match day, my street starts to fill up with stalls selling merchandise. I like that the street gets busier and busier as kickoff gets closer. I like hearing the hardcore fans, the porras, chanting and banging drums as they walk to the stadium. And I, of course, like being able to leave the apartment fifteen minutes before the game starts. There’s a far greater mix of men and women at Cruz Azul games than I’ve ever seen at games in Europe, and a mix of fans, too. Being the capital city, there are always fans of the opposing teams scattered around, even more so for local derbies. In my section up in the “cheap” seats, I’d say that about 30% of the fans were Pumas fans. Some of them alone, some of them mixed-team couples. Girlfriend and I would’ve been one of those mixed-team couples had she not had other plans.
As you enter the stadium, you are frisked. No belts allowed. That’s another benefit of living close: not having to traverse the city constantly tugging up my jeans. The Pumas section at one end of the ground was pretty much full early on. The Cruz Azul end of the ground not so much. Apparently, there had been some clashes with police outside the ground, which I assume accounts for that. The crappy PA played music. “Everybody Get Up” by 5ive. The cheerleaders (like yer proper NFL style cheerleaders) walked around the perimeter of the field to mucho whistling.
The breeze blew the smell of Domino’s pizza around. The vendors touted their wares. Like at baseball games, they bring beer and soft drinks and snacks to you. As game time approached, the big inflatables around the edge of the field were deflated. I kind of enjoy seeing those before the game. Four inflatable bottles (Tecate, Gatorade, Mexicola (a, er, Mexican cola), and Boing (a fruity drink)), and a couple of inflatable cement bags. Cruz Azul, you see, is sponsored and named after a cement company of the same name.
The match itself wasn’t so great for Cruz Azul fans. It reminded me of last season’s Liverpool v. Chelsea game (albeit at a much lower quality level). The home team looked by far the most dangerous, with the visitors content to defend (well) and hope to nick a goal. And Pumas did nick a goal, with the help of some awful linesmanship. A ball went out of play for a corner or goal kick (not sure who touched the ball last) but the Pumas player kicked it back onside, and from that, they scored. Cruz Azul continued pressing to equalise, but the Pumas keeper was having a great game. After a Cruz Azul player was sent off with half an hour to go, they continued attacking, but it was obvious that nothing was gonna happen, and in injury time, Cruz Azul got caught out in defence and there you go, the Battle of the Mediocre Mexico City Teams ended 2-0. The other Mexico City team, Club América, are top of the league and looking really strong. Considering how they’ve performed, they really should win the liguilla.
There’s one more away game left, but Cruz Azul need to win and for four teams to all not win to make it into the liguilla. But, they don’t deserve to be there. They’ve lost six of sixteen games, and not won a single away game all season. But, I’m looking forward to the Torneo clausura starting up again in January, and getting back to the stadium every other Saturday. It’s nice to be a regular.
Not really an infographic, but here’s something about Derek Jeter.
This week’s post for NotGraphs is a short story called “October 27, 2011” set during game 6 of the Cardinals-Rangers World Series. http://www.fangraphs.com/not/october-27-2011
When the World Cup began, my brain filtered things in favour of certain teams. I looked at the way the groups and knockout stages would work, and created a pick of the pops: I wanted England or Mexico to win. But realistically, I’d be pretty cool with seeing Messi play well and Argentina winning, partially for the frisson that would come from them winning it in Brazil.
When the groups ended, things got easier. My brain plopped down on one side or the other. I wanted Mexico to beat the Netherlands. I wanted Colombia to beat Uruguay. I would kinda like to see Algeria beat Germany. Without really giving it too much thought, my interest in the games chose a side. It just happened.
Why does my brain do that? On Saturday morning, I went to a bar downtown called El Jarrito to watch the Argentina-Belgium game. It started at 11am Mexico time. The bar didn’t really look particularly open. One of the metal shutters was still down. The other shutter, though, to the main entrance was open. And the TVs were on. An old man in a cardigan was sat near the bar at the far end. I asked him if they were open. He nodded and asked what I wanted to drink. He got up, went to the fridge and brought me an Indio. El Jarrito isn’t the prettiest place. The floor is kinda knackered. The tables are topped with old, broken Formica, and they have white, plastic, Sol-branded chairs. The gents kinda smells bad.
I thanked him for the beer, grabbed a chair from one of the stacks, and sat at a table facing the bigger of the two TVs. The Argentinian and Belgian anthems played. I really would’ve been happy if either team had won the game, but right there, as the players stood around waiting to kick off, my brain decided. Argentina.
It had done the same the day before. Brazil v Colombia: the latter. France v Germany: the latter again. The choice of Germany is an odd one for me. My view of the German national team has changed. My feeling towards the German team used to be firm. Based, probably, on our bullshit insistence on remembering that We beat Them in 1945. And We had another victory in 1966, but since then, the upper hand has not really been Ours. Sure, there was the 1-5 in Munich in 2001, but really, in my lifetime, Germany has always been better than England at football. The German team is what the English team could be if whatever it is that goes wrong with them didn’t go wrong every time. And when Germany beat England in 2010, it was kinda cathartic. I wish we didn’t have that not-given-goal to look back at and give us a “what if..?” England were well beaten, and it somehow cut free the weight of hating the German team. Instead, it made me realise, way too late, that they aren’t the ones at fault.
England’s football history is full of shitty performances and occasional “unjust” defeats. Games where we can blame something for nearly (but not) winning. We constantly talk about why this is. Is it the youth system? I don’t know for sure, but you look at the Costa Rica and US teams and you have to wonder. We could argue about it, but virtually every player at every position is better on the English team than either Costa Rica or the US team. But somehow, England did worse than both of those teams. We can’t blame the referee, we can’t blame penalties, we can’t blame the Germans. And it’s nice to accept that. To enjoy the German team now. And it also makes me feel bad about being a dick in the past to German friends about their team.
I wanted Germany to beat France. And, I kinda think I want them to beat Brazil, too. Nothing against Brazil at all, really. It’d just be nice to see Fifa’s perfect script torn up. It makes no sense in my own head, though. I look at the semi-finals and think I want Germany and Argentina to win their games. But I don’t actually want a Germany v Argentina final. I’d rather see a Brazil v Argentina final. That perfect Fifa script final. But, in reality, the only teams I’ve wanted to win along the way are both out. A Colombia v Mexico final would’ve been my preferred final. I enjoyed watching those teams. And none of the teams in the semis have been entirely convincing in the tournament. Apart from that first game against Spain, the Netherlands have been nothing particularly special. Maybe just getting through to the semis is enough; play well enough to get there and then see what happens. None of these teams are gonna be ones we remember as World Cup greats. The World Cup should be won by a series of moments, partial games. Colombia beating Uruguay, the Belgian onslaught against the US. Suárez’s goals against England. Tim Cahill’s goal.
Maybe it is just about winning. Which is kind of sad for me. Winning at all costs takes the joy out of things. It’s Harold Schumacher. It’s Jose Mourinho. It’s Arjen Robben throwing himself around to cheat his opponent instead of staying on his feet and actually doing what we all know he can do: play football brilliantly.
I am aware of the hypocrisy, obviously. Players on teams we don’t like, we have harsher opinions of them. I, like you, don’t like all the diving in football, but we kinda turn a blind eye when players on our favourite teams do it, and we jump all over it when players on other teams do it. Especially teams we don’t like. Arjen Robben has played for Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. A trio of teams that are incredibly easy to hate. It’s the cynicism, though, isn’t it? Any advantage I can get here, I’m going to take it, no matter how fair it is. I can see the other side of the argument: we somehow hate Robben more for no real reason, that he’s only doing what other players do, except he does it “better.” I don’t buy that. Robben is a fantastic player. But he will always be primarily remembered as a diver. Same with Suárez, really. No matter what he does, he’s gonna be the biting guy. I think the distaste for Robben is about the professional athlete that never happened in all of us. Damn, if I had his talent, I would absolutely want to be remembered for that talent, not for being a melodramatic cheat.
After the Netherlands v Mexico game, Robben talked about and admitted diving in the first half, and ended by saying “I apologise for the action in the first-half but that’s football …” That’s football!? That’s like a drug dealer saying “that’s smackheads!” after selling someone some heroin. Absolving yourself of responsibility by blaming it on the culture you helped, if not create, then promote. The ugly cynicism in those words is what makes him so easy to hate.
My behaviour, though, also needs to change. I want to stop choosing a side “just because.” I want to be able to sit down and watch Brazil v Germany and have no rooting involved, just enjoy it. Not get annoyed if the “wrong” team wins. And to refer to my behaviour as the equivalent of “that’s football…” is to admit that I will never improve my behaviour. And I can’t admit that, I won’t. I will always have flaws, but to not see that and not actually make attempts to change makes me no better than Robben’s non-apology. An apology that says, “yeah, soz, but I’m gonna keep on doing this.”
Adidas, we need to talk about the thin stripe across the shoulder blades of every kit you have designed for teams in the World Cup. Why is it there? Not got enough stripes on all of your kits? But it’s not just you who does this. Other kit manufacturers get too fussy, too.
It seems to be in our nature as football fans, sports fans, human beings, to get annoyed when anything changes. Team crests, for example. Arsenal’s cannon is facing the wrong way these days. Manchester United lost the words “Football Club” off their crest. Everton fans got riled up when their team’s crest was re-designed last year. Liverpool’s crest grew and grew over the years, and in that growth included–rightly–two eternal flames for the 96 Hillsborough victims. And with a new kit manufacturer (Warrior) the crest was pared back to a beautiful and simple Liver bird and L.F.C. But that meant we lost the flames. As a design, I prefer the return to a simpler crest, but as a fan, I wish the flames were still in there. But they are now on the back of the neck, either side of the number 96.
As someone whose work is vaguely design-related, though, I can also see that things need to change. A wee bit of tinkering, modernising, refreshing, seems like something we should be doing now and again. Cardiff City fans, rightly in my opinion, are resistant to their owner’s decision to change from blue to red shirts. That’s not a wee bit of tinkering, though. Which brings me to the World Cup kits.
The teams at the World Cup are representing their countries. And the sports manufacturers are fucking with things. Spain have red shirts and blue shorts. That’s how it is. But not this time. This time they had red shorts. England have dark blue shorts. But not this time (or last time, actually); this time they had an all-white kit. Germany are supposed to have black shorts. This time, they too are all white. Brazil, the home nation with the most iconic of all international kits should have yellow shirts, blue shorts, and white socks. But they’ve played their last three games with white shorts. That’s not Brazil. In this era of brand management, you would think that Fifa would understand that one of the key things about the World Cup is our ability to instantly recognise a kit. Yellow-blue-white: Brazil! Yellow-white-white: err, who’s that? These things are fundamental in our collective memory of World Cups. What is a World Cup if these memories, the history, don’t exist? (Well, aside from a way for Fifa to rock up into a country and scrape every possible penny from under that nation’s collective sofa.)
The design of kits seems all about letting the manufacturers do whatever they want. Within reason. I don’t understand why goalkeepers, who obviously need a slightly different kit, wear a uniform that is so often totally unrelated, design-wise, to their outfield brothers? If you mixed up the goalie kits and blurred the team badge, it’d be kinda tough to guess which keeper belonged to which team. Not only does this make for unnecessary ugliness, it seems to me to be missing an opportunity. I have no data for this, but I’m gonna go ahead and assume that of all the replica jerseys, the goalkeepers’ jerseys are the ones that sell the least. If Adidas and Nike and Puma, etc. gave it a bit more thought, there is a potential revenue stream there that benefits everyone. Make the goalie kit look like an essential part of the team, just like the person wearing that kit is an essential part of the team.
Maybe, though, my feet are just stuck in the mud. Maybe I just don’t want to accept change. And change looks good sometimes in hindsight. I remember disliking the the 1990 Germany home and away jerseys at the time. I look at them now and really like them. I can’t ever say I will truly dig, though, the Nike jersey for Portugal this time around. It just seems so cynical that the two tone stripes somehow pause to allow for a lighter red band wide enough for the Nike logo to appear unsullied on a plain background. Something they neglected to do for the country badge on the other side. It just seems to me, as design elements go, to be so disrespectful and so blatantly about promoting themselves. Or, maybe I’m spending too much time staring at a screen with moving images of football players on it. Maybe, right?
I wrote a post about this photograph in May 2013. It’s a deceiving photograph.
Later this week, those two teams play each other again. So, self-promotion!, here’s a link to that post again:
We are down to the last eight teams. All the group winners got through. Fuck you, Holland.
So, the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals:
French Republic v Federal Republic of Germany
Federative Republic of Brazil v Republic of Colombia
Argentine Republic v Kingdom of Belgium
Netherlands v Republic of Costa Rica
In 1914, it would’ve been:
French Third Republic v German Empire
Republic of the United States of Brazil v Republic of Colombia
Argentine Republic v Kingdom of Belgium
Netherlands v Republic of Costa Rica
And in 1814:
First French Empire v Confederation of the Rhine
State of Brazil v Viceroyalty of New Granada
United Provinces of the Río de la Plata v First French Empire
Sovereign Principality of the United Netherlands v Viceroyalty of New Spain
Kingdom of France v Holy Roman Empire
State of Brazil v New Kingdom of Granada
Viceroyalty of Peru v Spanish Netherlands
Republic of the Seven United Netherlands v Viceroyalty of New Spain
Kingdom of France v Holy Roman Empire
Governorate General of Brazil v Viceroyalty of Peru
Viceroyalty of Peru v Spanish Netherlands
Republic of the Seven United Netherlands v Viceroyalty of New Spain
Kingdom of France v Holy Roman Empire
Indigenous peoples of what is now Brazil v Province of Tierra Firme
Indigenous peoples of what is now Argentina v Habsburg Netherlands
Habsburg Netherlands v Indigenous peoples of what is now Costa Rica
(All of this was “researched” by quickly looking at Wikipedia, so, y’know, sorry, actual historians. Feel free to correct me in the comments.)
Luis Suárez appeared to bite that Italian fella. I only say “appeared” because, guess what, I didn’t see it from an angle where I can be sure. And those marks on Chiellini’s shoulder? Well, the not-hi-def images I’ve seen aren’t conclusive. I can’t be absolutely sure they are bite marks. Everyone has already convicted him, of course. I’m not denying it appears likely that he did it. And I’m not defending him, and I’m very specifically not defending him because he plays his club football for my favourite team.
What I will say though—and this is not a hot sprots take, obviously—is how bloody dull everyone became yesterday after it happened. It was Twitter at its most tedious. Vampire! Hannibal Lecter! #Food #Brands using it for the same un-hilarious “If you’re hungry, Luis, why not try our chocolate-coated fried pork in popcorn batter! LOL.” The moral high ground was staggeringly over-populated; border guards were having trouble keeping up with the visa applicants. Everyone is allowed their opinions of course. I am expressing mine now.
Twitter is at its best, I think, when it feels like you’re having a chat in your living room, just that the people you’re chatting with are in various places around the world. That’s a good thing. When Internet moral outrage takes hold, though, I can’t be arsed with it. Go at it all you want. Knock yourselves out. But that’s when I close the browser window cos your unique opinion on Luis Suárez is fucking tedious.
Sadly, Suárez took away from other things that happened:
England didn’t lose. Yay!
Italy got knocked out. Yay!
Costa Rica won! the! bloody! group!
And the awesome-looking Colombia now face Uruguay in the Round of 16. That section of the Round of 16 is gonna fun as hell: the winner of that game facing either Brazil or Chile in the quarters. Much as I love the country of Brazil, I’m kinda hoping we see a Chile vs. Colombia quarter final. And if Ecuador get out of Group E—making it six out of six South American countries getting out of the group—they could meet Argentina in the Round of 16. That’d be fun. I wonder how much fun, though, these games will be for South Americans. Would they see these as chances to beat rivals on the big stage or would they all rather have the chance to play teams who aren’t from CONMEBOL?
And, oh yeh, congrats Greece, your presence in the Round of 16 is something everyone has been hoping and praying for…
Mexico won. In a cheap bar in the downtown Centro Historico part of Mexico City, we chugged down Tecates, ate peanuts, and eventually jumped up and down as Mexico beat Croatia
3-0, oops, I mean 3-1. We paid, and joined the throng of people leaving the Zócalo and heading to El Ángel de la Independencia, a nearly four kilometre walk which, due to the amount of people, really managed to mess with the traffic. Heading to El Ángel is something of a tradition when Mexico wins something. They won a group game yesterday. A group game.
You may have read that Fifa, that most discerning of bodies, decided to drop its charges of improper conduct with regards to Mexico fans at the World Cup shouting “puto” when the opposing goalkeeper takes a goal kick. That’s a shame, really. It would be good if something was done about this. It has occurred at every football match I’ve ever seen in Mexico. And, as far as I can tell, it’s hardly ever discussed. A few people I’ve spoken to about it don’t see it as a big deal, but, y’know, that’s what people say, isn’t it? Washington Redskins fans who want to keep using that horrible name will say it’s not a big deal. But as we walked toward El Ángel, the hordes shouted that word fairly regularly. One can’t say if it’s a knee-jerk, cornered, kind of fuck-you reaction to being slightly chastised by Fifa, or whether the people were just shouting it as a matter of course. Either way, Mexican football fans are, for the immediate future, still gonna use that word, and I just hope that the fact that this topic has come up during a World Cup may mean that we have started the long journey to stop shouting “puto.”
As people walked by Parque Alameda, a few of them noticed a Circle K. They began shouting “Chelas! Chelas!” Slang for “beer.” Before the store employees had time to react, the steps up to the place were full of fans. There was no real malice there, as the two or three employes seemed to fairly easily get twenty or thirty people out of the store and shut the doors quite quickly. Not quick enough, though, to stop the beer fridge being looted.
But, all in all, it was an incredibly good-natured and fun time. As an English person, it’s kinda nice to see a football victory being celebrated with such joy. It may seem, from the above two paragraphs, that it was all kinda crappy, but that’s totally not true. People danced, took photos with strangers, kicked balls and balloons around, honked car horns, sprayed foam everywhere, and whenever a TV camera appeared, went utterly bonkers in front of its lens.
Whenever I see the Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, I can’t help but be reminded of this Lard twelve-inch sleeve.